What's Next Boss + final edit shown first

Critique Style Requested: Standard

The photographer is looking for generalized feedback about the aesthetic and technical qualities of their image.


You may have observed that you seldom see humans, or even any evidence of them in my work. It was as much a surprise to me as it probably is to you, that one of my most favorite images from 2023 is of this cowboy out riding fence with his trusted horse and a couple of his best friends.

It was a foggy, rainy day in early August when we found ourselves up in the mountains of Southwest Montana. My nature loving eyes were scanning left and right for compelling compositions when whole scene materialized out of the fog. We pulled off the old rutted dirt road and waited for the moment to arrive. After a quick holler for permission to take the shot, this was the end result.

Specific Feedback

Ive got a bit of a halo around some of the subjects. I’m sure it’s related to the sharpening I did, both in Lightroom and in Topaz Sharpen. Is it distracting? I also have a general question about selling images that have a person in them. This is public Forest Service land. I had his permission to take the photo, but I should have recognized that Montanans might want to buy this image. I have several pending requests, but am not sure of the ethics in this situation. I’m working on finding out who leases this land, but have struck out so far. Any thoughts?

Technical Details

Nikon D850
Nikon 70-300 4.5-5.6
ISO 100, f/10, 1/640th, 300mm

I used Topaz Sharpen to add sharpness and some denoising. Several masks in Lightroom to further refine some lighting on the subjects.

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WOW! What a wonderful capture!! The light on the horse and rider are FANTASTIC, but the halo is an issue. There shouldn’t be any need to sharpen both in LR and then in Topaz. You might want to back off and look at it again. A natural softness in a subject like this can be a lovely touch. Sometimes a good alternative is Texture in LR, or very subtle High Pass sharpening in PS. (My secret trick: Do the blend mode first then you can see just how far to move the slider.)

The soft light is awesome but it looks just a bit underexposed.

There are different requirements for model releases depending on the end use – most stringent for commercial use. Private sales would probably be more lenient. There is a lot of information on the internet.

A beautiful image, Paul. I can see why it might sell. I doubt that you’d run into any problems with selling prints, though something like postcards or a stock agency might be a different matter. If you can go back to the area and find the nearest cafe, someone might recognize the horse or the rider (my wife would recognize the horse first if we lived around there).

I suspect from it’s location that the halo is due to the masks-they aren’t usually very capable when it comes to things like hair, which is where I’m seeing most of the issue. In LR, you should be able to go back into the develop module, select the mask at fault and then use the [±] at the bottom of the mask indicator get in there with a very small brush and just delete the mask in the halo areas. It’s usually pretty unnoticeable when the hair fringes are a little too dark.

Thanks so much for the thoughts @Diane_Miller and @Dennis_Plank I’m not sure how I ended up wandering down the path of so much sharpening! I’ve added a new version. No Topaz on this and no masking in Lightroom on the rider, just a mask to darken the sky. There is still a tiny halo, but it seems to be better. Clicking the “remove chromatic abberation” button seemed to help.

This is a beautiful shot. The composition, the characters, even the gestures. I agree on reducing the sharpness. It works against the romance of the image. This may be unhelpful if you’re not into the aesthetic, but you might want to refer to some of the artists who painted cowboy themes. My grandparents had a Frank Tenney Johnson painting on their walls, and it apparently had a subtle impact on me whenever I encounter a scene like this.

Much better! But it still feels underexposed. The histogram doesn’t have anything in the right 1/3 or so. Rather than bringing the right end in, I just lifted the middle, which kept the lighter tones subdued and brought up the darker ones. Also did a gradient burn at the bottom. You might do a soft-edged very small quick mask on the face and lighten it even more.

It’s always hard to decide where to place the exposure, especially in a scene with cloudy light, but our eyes generally want to see a reasonably full range of tones.

Excellent capture, whatever you decide! You caught the dogs in the perfect poses!!

I probably should be more into western art, living in Montana and all! I did a google search first for western cowboy art. I found myself drawn to a certain style of painting only to find out they were by Frank Tenny Johnson! It sort of took me in a different direction that what others had suggested, but I really like this version. I always run my edits by my wife, who is not a photographer. But has a good eye for what a viewer tends to prefer. She agrees with @Diane_Miller thoughts, but I just cant help go a little more dramatic with it!

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That’s more dramatic, certainly. Your wife has a good eye.
One thing I picked up from the various painterly influences on my work (Hudson River is the biggest) is attention to the palette. The Western palette is pretty distinct, too. In your image I think the grasses are in conflict with the horse and the sky. I would slide the Yellow hue around a bit to make it more complementary. That would help bring out the sky, also.

So many ways to go with this – and it certainly deserves drama! I really like where you are going with your last version. My remaining thought is that the rider is a bit flat in tonal range. A careful mask limited to hat, face and shirt (and with a soft edge staying inside the subject and not getting out into the sky) could brighten them just a little – brighten the lightest tones, not the mids). Just a thought.

I love the vignette! Interesting thought brought up by @joe16 about the greens. But there is something I really find interesting about the grass, especially now with the vignette. There is indeed so much to be learned from the master painters.

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This picture has a wonderful, elegiac quality that is reminiscent of both John Ford and Frederick Remington. I resonate with your instinct to intensify the pathetic fallacy inherent in the scene. I like @joe16 Joe’s version because of the way he’s handled the colour dynamic between grass and sky. That being said, in that version the cowboy doesn’t feel quite right to me - too muddy - and I would bring up the midtones just in him (through some combination of midtone contrast, paint contrast, or especially dodging and burning) particularly his face because for me, I need a place for my eye to come to rest and I think it should be with the cowboy. As it is, I feel his upper body and especially his face, is getting lost in the sky.
On another note, haloing can certainly be a problem when amping up contrast and sometimes you can head that off at the pass (see how I did that :smile:) in the layer and masking process. But here’s another very simple trick to deal with it if, when you get to the end, it’s still there. In Photoshop create a new layer and go to the clone tool. But in the layers panel where it typically says “normal”, change it to “darken”. Set the clone tool to around 65% opacity and select from beyond the halo. Then paint with a small brush on both sides of the halo. Because you’ve set it to “darken” no cloning will occur except where the halo is. In other words if you’re trying to get rid of the haloing between the cowboy’s right arm and the sky, just select a point to the left of the halo and then paint straddling both sides of the halo and it will disappear.

What a thoughtful comment Kerry! Thank you so much for taking the time to do that. I will spend some time in the next few days having a go at your suggestions.

Thanks Diane. Thats a great point about the hat, face and shirt. His coat was a very faced Carhart sweatshirt that is wet in places. I bet it I darkened it a bit, it would take on a more leather like look, which would be appropriate! I dont have the raw file with me here at work, but I suspect my vignette has intersected his upper body and negatively affected that. I’ll work some more in this. So thankful for your thoughts!

@joe16 @Diane_Miller @Kerry_Gordon @Dennis_Plank Well, here’s my latest version. To be completely honest, I do not know much at all about Photoshop. This was all done in Lightroom. I’ve brightened the cowboy and a few darker areas on the horse. I’ve reduced saturation on the foreground. I enlarged the vignette around the horse and rider and played around with the lighting in the vignette and outside of it.

You’ve been able to do a lot in LR, and it is a magnificent image in any regard. If you add your latest/final version to the original post, above the original image, that will be the one that shows in the thumbnails and likely the one considered for the weekly EPs, and this image in certainly deserving of that consideration, and the EOY awards.

Wow, you couldn’t have asked for a better cowboy than this guy. True grit!!! This has an HDR look to it that I actually really like a lot. I love the playful dogs running along side and the scrub in the scene. The sky is essential for this to work and it too is just perfect particularly in your repost at the very top of this page. The light is exquisite and I can see why this could sell. I have no idea what you can and can’t sell. I’ve never tried to sell anything before so I’m not the right person to ask. This is a terrific image in all regards. Well done, Paul.

And congratulations on the EP!! Very well deserved!

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Thank you Diane, and thanks for the beneficial critique!